Last night was one of the most enjoyable Kings games to watch in recent memory. The Kings were down four players due to the big Rudy Gay trade, and faced a veteran Mavericks team that had just beaten the red-hot Portland Trailblazers. The advantage was decidedly not Sacramento's.
It didn't matter. The Kings came out firing on all cylinders, and won the game on the backs of huge performances by DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Williams. Those three combined for 87 points, 26 rebounds, 15 assists, and 9 steals.
Williams' 31 points were a career-high in just his sixth game with the Kings. He shot 12-16 from the field including 3-5 from downtown. He showed impressive touch on his jumper and did a great job of anticipating passing lanes on his way to five steals. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Williams since the Kings have acquired him is that he hasn't looked out of place as a Small Forward; He's so quick, athletic and strong that it's seemed a natural fit actually. He's an absolute terror on the fastbreak, and the fact that he can rebound the ball and push it himself is great. The Kings acquired him in the hope that he would upgrade the talent base of the team. So far he's done that in spades.
One of the biggest problems for the Kings offense so far this season is that they took so long to get into their offensive sets. Greivis Vasquez is a prototypical Point Guard, but he was slow and methodical and his defense was way too porous. He simply could not stay in front of his defender. To be a running team you need to generate stops, something that was not occurring with Vasquez in the starting lineup. Sacramento looked so much sharper last night with Isaiah Thomas finally in charge. Thomas pushed the pace and the Kings beat the Mavericks in the fastbreak 23 to 5.
His quickness on the defensive side of things allowed everyone else to look better. His ability to stay in front of his man, or to rotate to another quickly, gives the rest of the team time to react as well, rather than being a step behind because the other team's point guard is already in the paint. I don't think it's a coincidence that the Kings best defensive performance (Dallas shot 38.9% from the field and just 18.5% from three) came with Isaiah starting.
Thomas also was able to break down Dallas' defense repeatedly, setting up teammates along the way. Isaiah has been one of the best Pick and Roll players in the NBA since he came into the league, and that's not just me bloviating. According to Synergy Sports, Isaiah is the 16th most effective P&R Ball handler in the league, and has been in the top 20 each of his first three years in the league. There's this (frankly stupid) narrative that Isaiah Thomas is not a Point Guard because he doesn't look to pass first. While it's true that he looks for his shot a lot, he still has good vision, and is able to make a lot of play simply because of how much of a threat he is to score. His assist rate of 34.6% is not only a career-high, but higher than the following players this year: Russell Westbrook, Mike Conley, Tony Parker, Kyrie Irving, Michael Carter-Williams, Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, Raymond Felton and ... Greivis Vasquez. In fact, only 10 players have a higher assist rate him at all. The only Point Guards with a higher PER than Isaiah (and there are only 9 TOTAL players with a higher PER) are Chris Paul and Stephen Curry. Thomas probably should have been starting all along, but he joins the starting lineup at a great time. With Rudy Gay's addition, Thomas has four weapons to choose from, and that's not including himself.
We've gotten this far and we haven't yet talked about DeMarcus Cousins' dominating performance. Cousins was just a monster on the low block that Dallas didn't have an answer for. If Coach Michael Malone deserves praise for just one thing, it's been keeping Cousins in the post for the most part. Yes, he'll still shoot jumpers, and yes he'll try to play Point Guard for some reason, but most of the time he's in the post and he's phenomenal there. He's showing so much patience this year and it's paying a lot of dividends since many times he'll either score or get to the line. We're seeing a career-year from Cousins all across the board, and as Tom pointed out on Twitter, his FG% is at 49.2%, inching towards that magical 50% number we had all hoped for. He's also rebounding like a maniac, snatching just over 30% of all available defensive rebounds while he's on the floor. The only person grabbing defensive boards at a higher rate is Kevin Love and the difference is negligible.
The best part about Cousins performance to me this year is that it has been so good despite the fact that there are still so many areas he could improve in. For starters, he should never, ever, ever try to play Point Guard again. Cousins had 9 turnovers and I felt like at least 4 of them last night were from him not getting the ball to his guards. I have no problem with Cousins grabbing a rebound and then pushing the break out to say the halfcourt line, but unless he has a clear path to the basket, get the ball to the Point Guard. There's also the fact that Cousins has only been averaging just over 30 minutes a game to this point of the season. If he can stay out of foul trouble and get that up closer to 36 (around what most stars average) that'll be great, because the Kings are so much better with him on the floor.
Not everything clicked last night of course. The bench performed miserably in the second quarter, with Jimmer getting a terrible matchup against Monta Ellis (who showed me why I didn't want him this summer when he started shooting jumpers over Jimmer instead of just driving on him every time). Ben McLemore had a rough shooting night again, going just 1-7 and picking up five fouls. Marcus Thornton had just 1 point in 24 minutes. But the good far outweighed the bad, and I can't wait to see how this team incorporates the new guys. Gay has seemed to operate best as a player when he isn't the go-to guy, and with Cousins and Isaiah playing like they are, he shouldn't have to be.
We'll get a chance to see Gay, Gray and Acy in action on Wednesday, when the Kings take on the Utah Jazz at home.
- If Ben McLemore starts hitting his open shots, look out NBA. He already gets plenty, and now with the addition of Gay, the Kings will have a lot of guys that defenses need to stay keyed on. One thing I did like about Ben's performance last night was his passing. He was able to find open guys so he could contribute even while struggling from the field.
- The Kings are the holders of the NBA's championship belt! (Click the link if you have no idea what I'm talking about)
- Jimmer Fredette got the call as backup Point Guard over rookie Ray McCallum but neither really stood out. McCallum was outplayed by the smaller Shane Larkin in garbage time.
- Larkin meanwhile looks like a nice find. I liked him better than Gal Mekel at least.
- Few shots in NBA history that are as pretty to look at or as automatic as Dirk Nowitzki's turnaround fadeaway.
- Per NBA.com's lineup data, when Isaiah and Cousins are on the floor together they're outscoring opponents by 13.6 points per 100 possession. (H/T to Ball Don't Lie's Dan Devine for pointing out in his recap)